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OCO’s YES! Program Reaching Out During Runaway Prevention Month

Written by: John DeRousie, Custom Marketing Solutions
FULTON, NY – In recognition of November being National Runaway Prevention Month OCO’s Crisis and Development Services’ YES! Program (Youth Emergency Services), has been busy spreading the word and educating the community on the issue of homeless youth in Oswego County and the services that YES! offers to help combat these issues and provide assistance to those in need.

Care Management Program Manager, Christina Piscitelli (left), gives Jennifer Blake, Runaway/Homeless Youth Case Specialist with OCO’s Crisis and Development Services, a green light bulb in recognition of November being National Runaway Prevention Month.
Care Management Program Manager, Christina Piscitelli (left), gives Jennifer Blake, Runaway/Homeless Youth Case Specialist with OCO’s Crisis and Development Services, a green light bulb in recognition of November being National Runaway Prevention Month.

Each year OCO’s YES! program provides services to hundreds of homeless youth in Oswego County. In 2010 YES! received 441 calls to its 24-hour hot line from runaway, homeless or at-risk youth, with more than 300 receiving basic needs services such as food, clothing and shelter as well as on-going case support services. In addition YES! made 1146 referrals to youth for health, mental health, social, and other services.

One of the most effective programs offered through OCO’s Youth Services is their Street Outreach Services (SOS). Acting as a bridge to engage youth in services they may not be aware of, or are reluctant to seek, SOS provides street involved youth with information about services that are available to them and offers them the assistance they need to address their unique situation.

SOS combines the efforts of the Street Outreach Team with youth drop-in centers to offer a unique and effective way to reach youth with important information that can have a positive impact on their lives.  Street Outreach Team members combine fliers, posters and personal contact to reach youth in Fulton, Oswego, Hannibal, Mexico, Phoenix, Sandy Creek, and Pulaski. Additionally, SOS has established drop-in centers in Hannibal (in the basement of Kenney Middle School, Thursdays from 3 to 6 p.m.) and Mexico (in the Wilcox Memorial Center, Spring Street, Tuesdays from 3:30 – 6:30 p.m.) where youth can spend time after school and play games, socialize, participate in arts and crafts, go on outings and much more. Last year, the SOS team contacted more than 1,600 youth throughout Oswego County and hosted a very special event to help raise awareness of homelessness in Oswego County.

“In September we hosted our third annual Playing For Poverty, A Food Aid Concert for Oswego County at the War Memorial in Fulton,” said Heather Sturges, of the YES! Program. “Thanks to the support we received from area musicians and local businesses this year’s Playing For Poverty was a success as we raised awareness of the homeless problem in our county, collected some much needed food supplies for our area food pantries and provided youth with an exciting afternoon of music and fun.”

During the month of November OCO’s YES! Program is continuing to raise awareness of homelessness in Oswego County. Health Educator, Toni Ross explains.  “We want to impress upon our community that homelessness does indeed exist in Oswego County. In our county homelessness is not so much people living on the street and sleeping in boxes. For homeless youth in Oswego County it’s going from friend to friend or relative to relative, couch to couch as they attempt to find a place to stay. To help convey that to the community we will be holding a couch surfing demonstration later this month where we will distribute information regarding homlessness in Oswego County and suggestions on how community members can help us in addressing this issue. We have also placed posters in businesses throughout Oswego County and asked pizza shops and restaurants to include informational flyers with their deliveries regarding YES! and Runaway Prevention Month in hopes that we will encourage community members to become a host home,” said Ross.

With the number of homeless youth increasing, the need for Host Homes continues to grow. One way the YES! Program provides support to homeless youth is through volunteer Host Home families. These families open up their homes to youth that have runaway or have nowhere else to go. OCO YES! works with the youth to reconcile with families whenever possible and to empower the youth to make the correct choices. Currently YES! is recruiting families who would like to open their heart and their home to provide a safe, temporary place to stay while YES! staff members work with the youth to achieve a more permanent living situation.

“We are looking for host homes of any style, from parents and grandparents to non-parents, from single households to large households. We have recently added one host home and we would welcome more. All you need is the availability of an extra bed, a private space for a youth, and a big heart,” said Ross.

Enhancement Program Coordinator, Kathleen Knopp explained that each host home is certified through the NYS Office of Children and Family Services with each family receiving a thorough orientation and monthly training.  “We provide our host families with an understanding of what youth development is and what our philosophy is towards helping youth. It is important that host families offer a welcoming and non-judgmental atmosphere. Host homes also enjoy the flexibility of choosing their own schedules depending on how often they want to provide shelter for a runaway or homeless youth. They can also make other decisions such as specifying the age or gender of the youth they wish to help.”

Ross added that families have found that being a host home is a very rewarding experience and are happy that they are able to provide non-judgmental support and a safe home-like environment to youth that are in need. “I encourage those who are able, to consider becoming a host home. It’s a wonderful way to make a positive impact and help change a young person’s life for the better,” she said.

YES! Program’s Street Outreach Team will be, speaking with area organizations, social clubs, businesses, faith organizations and other community groups throughout November as they strive to educate the public about the issues facing runaway and homeless youth and educating the community about possible solutions to the problem and the role they can play in preventing youth from running away.

“We want to inspire community members to become actively involved in the prevention of runaway youth,” added Ross. “There are a number of things that we can do as individuals to help alleviate the problem of runaway youth in Oswego County.”

Following are examples of actions that can make a real difference:

Listen to teens.  Give them information and support. If they are considering running away, remind them that it can help to talk to someone.
Make sure they have the OCO YES! 24-hot hotline number, 342-7618 or toll-free at 1-877-342-7618.
Report abuse and neglect.
Become an OCO Youth Services Volunteer by calling 342-7532.
Support OCO YES! with donations of goods or money.

“Throughout the month of November we are asking community members to show their support for National Runaway Prevention Month by simply flipping a switch and turning on a green bulb in their porch light. Green light bulbs are available at our offices in the Midtown Plaza, Oswego, and at 239 Oneida St., Fulton, and will be distributed by our SOS team members,” said Ross.

For more information on OCO’s Crisis and Development Services, or to have a representative speak to your group or organization, you contact Ross at 315-592-0810.

Funding for OCO’s Youth Emergency Services (YES!) is provided by the NYS Office of Children and Family Services, through the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

One of Oswego County’s largest employers, OCO’s workforce of more than 650 employees and 1,000 volunteers provide more than 50 human services programs that touch the lives of more than 28,000 each year. As OCO celebrates its 45th anniversary it is on a roll to continue its mission of helping people, supporting communities, changing lives, and improving the quality of life for Oswego County residents. For more information on OCO, a member agency of the United Way of Greater Oswego County, visit their website at www.oco.org